Owning a dog had always been Luke Alfasso’s dream. But asthma, an allergy to dog dander, and life in a dog-free apartment complex in Brooklyn had conspired to limit Luke’s pet collection to a red-tailed shark and bearded dragon. However, within the last year, the 10-year-old outgrew his allergies enough to volunteer at the Pets Alive shelter in Elmsford, N.Y. As he and his mother, Victoria, trained dogs to make them more adoptable, they discussed and researched the attributes they would seek in a dog—if and when the time came to choose a pooch to call their own. After the family moved into a dog-friendly apartment, Luke began keeping a list of his favorite dog names on the refrigerator and diligently checking the shelter’s website, looking for his new pet.
When Pets Alive posted information about the upcoming mass transfer of adoptable dogs coming from Baton Rouge’s Companion Animal Alliance (CAA) shelter, Luke was immediately drawn to a picture of a boxer-mix puppy whom he called Marshmallow. He and his mother couldn’t get to the New York shelter until almost closing the day the Louisiana animals arrived in early August, yet Luke was determined to find “his” four-month-old puppy, initially brought to the Capital City shelter as a stray. He did.
“All the puppies seemed very social and not fearful of the new place and people,” Victoria Alfasso recalls. “After we took [the puppy] out [of the kennel], he sat at my feet. He was interacting with both of us, and Luke said, ‘This is my puppy.’ ”
“At that point, all our research and objectivity went right out the window. So I called my husband to let him know we had a dog. He was surprised but not completely.”
The baby boxer became the first CAA puppy adopted in Westchester County—and the darling of the CBS News New York evening broadcast. But he was far from alone in his good fortune. Marshmallow was among the 78 dogs who comprised the largest transport ever facilitated by New Orleans’ ASPCA. Astonishingly, within the first week, more than 30 dogs had been adopted.
“The ASPCA is involved with shelters in Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont and other Northern states,” ASPCA’s Animal Relocation Manager Kristen Limbert explains. “They tend to have fewer animals in shelters and running at large because they have stronger spay/neuter efforts and animal control laws.”
While some Baton Rougeans wonder whether making the trip to the shelter across the road from the airport to find a family pet is worth the effort, national “Don’t Shop. Adopt!” campaigns have actually created a demand for shelter pets across the country.
While every state battles cat overpopulation, households in Westchester have a penchant for rescued large breed puppies and small breed adult dogs, such as poodles, shih tzus and pug mixes. For their part, Virginians favor Catahoulas, shepherds and blackmouth curs. Since CAA has an abundance of all those breeds, two additional summer transports rolled into Norfolk, Va., with a total of 52 puppies. By the time Petz Plaza’s customized van left the Capital City with the second group of pups, nearly all of the 29 dogs transported to Virginia the previous month had already found homes.
The quality of Baton Rouge’s discarded dogs often astounds out-of-state rescuers. “[The Virginia rescuers] can’t believe the totally adoptable animals who [would otherwise be] euthanized because of space or time,” says Suzanne Swim, who facilitated the Virginia placements and recently joined CAA as shelter operations director.
Furthermore, “These pups were similar to others we’ve received [from other shelters],” explains Pets Alive Development Director Melissa Stone. “[But] what was nice about this transfer is that the East Baton Rouge shelter quarantined the dogs for two weeks and they were fully vetted, which allowed us to immediately start adopting these guys out.”
Preparing the animals and interstate paperwork requires a tremendous commitment of time and money from CAA staff, local veterinarians, philanthropists and volunteers.
But the benefits are exponential. The transports certainly save the lives of puppies lucky enough to leave Louisiana. The departing dogs also open up kennel space for an equal number of new intakes, who enter the shelter at a rate of 10 to 40 day.
“It’s been so successful. We plan to have transports—even small ones—going somewhere every month,” says Paula Shaw, CAA’s programs and service manager.
Hopefully, CAA will not only forge alliances with shelters to place its adoptable animals but also emulate the community programs and practices that have elsewhere successfully curtailed pet overpopulation and promoted responsible pet ownership.
Then, like New York and Virginia, the Capital City may become a beacon and benchmark for other cities desperate to reform antiquated animal control systems. “We are committed to the no-kill movement,” Pets Alive’s Stone says. “Anytime an organization reaches out to us choosing life over death, we do our best to help.”
And in doing so, they give a boxer a fighting chance.